Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Hungary boosts border control, holds army exercise

  • Desperate migrants trying to escape a collection point with appaling conditions for asylum-seekers in Roszke, Hungary (Photo: Daniel Belenyi)

Hundreds of migrants broke through police lines in Hungary near the Serbian border in Roszke on Wednesday (9 September), as the army started mobilising for guarding the frontier.

For a third day in a row, desperate migrants tried to flee from a so-called collection point, a makeshift open-air camp for people waiting to be registered at a nearby center that cannot cope with the influx of asylum-seekers.

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Wednesday saw a record number of 3,321 migrants caught by police at the Hungarian-Serbian border. Thousands more are expected over the weekend.

The escape attempt involved some 400 migrants, who shouted: "No camp!", AFP reported.

Preparing for a possible role in border control, the army on Wednesday launched an exercise called "Decisive Action", pending a vote in parliament later in September.

"It is our job to make sure Hungary is defended," General Tibor Benko told a news programme on the M1 channel.

Hungary recently completed the construction of a razor-wire barrier along its 175-kilometre frontier with Serbia, but the fence has failed to prevent large numbers of people getting through. It is building an additional, four-metre-high fence.

Legal limbo

Hungary’s justice minister insisted on Wednesday that Hungary’s new anti-migration laws, entering into force on 15 September, which will criminalise illegal border crossings, are not violating the UN Convention on Refugees.

Parliament adopted legislation recently that creates transit zones along the border with Serbia that minister Laszlo Trocsanyi said would be "similar to an airport transit zone".

"While it is located in the territory of the given state, the entry into the transit zone does not qualify, in immigration terms, as an entry into that state," he said, according to Reuters.

Asylum-seekers will be held in these zones, with their requests fast-tracked.

Human rights group say this will create a legal limbo, and serves to dump migrants back into Serbia.

Hungary in July declared its southern neighbor a "safe third country", making it possible to deport all asylum-seekers entering through Serbia.

Vincent Cochetel, the Regional Refugee Coordinator for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), told a news conference on Tuesday: "We do not like the idea of [a] transit zone, if transit zone means that the Hungarian legislation and European standards do not apply there."

New laws coming into force on 15 September also mean that crossing the Hungarian border without legal papers will be considered a crime, resulting in deportation or even jail sentence.

"If a person can prove he was persecuted in Serbia, then it's not a crime," said Trocsanyi.

The UN refugee agency warned that according to the UN Refugee Convention, no one can be prosecuted for illegal entry if they are seeking asylum.

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